In Search of Humanity’s Prime Directive

In Search of Humanity’s Prime Directive

A thousand years from now, what is it that the human race will need to have accomplished?

Yes, I realize that this is a huge question and many of you reading this are living paycheck-to-paycheck worrying about who’s going to win the big game this weekend. But if we don’t begin to frame our role of humanity inside a much bigger picture, we are likely to remain in sputter-mode until we eventually do.

I’ll apologize in advance to my Star Trek friends, but the show’s creators missed it completely. Star Fleet’s so-called Prime Directive, their over arching rule of non-interference with other civilizations, is more of a “prime restrictive” than a “prime directive,” and will rank no higher than a sub-point of a sub-point in the future rules of the universe if we ever decide to go down that path.

For decades we’ve been attempting to solve past problems, and it’s easy to become sun-blinded with problems as everywhere we look we see more of them. Cancer, tornados, floods, wars, and famine are all reoccurring themes sucking up all our attention.

However, this backward-facing preoccupation we have with problem solving leaves little attention to be paid to the question, “where do we go from here?” Our whack-a-mole approach of beating problems over the head, only to find them springing up again in a different place, has left us in an endless loop.

For this reason I’d like to propose we create a real Prime Directive for all of humanity.

Undoing the Damage Done by Hollywood and TV News 

The average person on the street is afraid of the future.

If you ask them about the world ahead, most will instantly jump to topics of disease, war, famine, and natural disasters. At least that’s what they’re willing to talk about.

However, what’s really playing in the back of their heads are the vivid disaster scenes from recent movies that make the twin towers falling on 9/11 seem like a distant blip on their disaster radar.

Witnessing catastrophes like this in full 3D surround-sound intensity has a way of creating indelible imprints on our personality, imprints that are seething with paranoia.

Yes, I still like to be entertained like everyone else, but at what point do we cross the line? At what point does our entertainment blatantly distort the truth in a way that can be harmful to those watching?

As an example, many young people today believe:

  • …they can jump out of a car going 40-50 mph, roll a few times, and they’ll be fine.
  • …they can punch each other repeatedly in the face and cause no significant damage.
  • …someone can get shot once or twice, shrug it off, and keep going.
  • …the world is clearly divided between good people and bad people, and its easy to tell them apart.
  • …corporations are evil, government is corrupt, and whatever you do is okay as long as you have the right intentions.

Since Hollywood is always looking for people to cast as villains to make their plots more interesting, they’ve also determined that casting the future as evil and foreboding also makes the plots more interesting.

While there are many potential dangers lurking ahead, and many things will indeed go wrong, our near-total obsession with only portraying the dark side of the future leaves us with little understanding of what the upside could be.

Being risk averse is not necessarily bad, but being future averse is.

"Being risk averse is not necessarily bad,
but being future averse is!" - Thomas Frey

Framing the Question

Let’s start with one possible scenario: Twenty years from now, the online world has enabled us to live in a far more efficient world, and the amount of money we spend on transportation, energy, education, healthcare, housing, and food drops by 50%. This dropping of expenses frees up tremendous amounts of money that can be spent in other ways.

If we suddenly find ourselves with significantly more money, in what ways should we invest this money to make the world a better place?

Once again, what is our Prime Directive? What are the big things that still need to be accomplished?

Since we currently don’t have any type of established goals or directions for humanity, most of this money will likely be squandered.

Creating the Prime Directive

So what would a “Prime Directive” actually look like?

Since this hasn’t been done before, at least not on any official scale, the effort we begin with will look very crude in comparison to what we end up with.

That said, I envision this to be a fluid guideline, updated periodically, to help focus resources and efforts today around building a better future.

As a starting point, a Prime Directive may include such things as:

  • Create inexhaustible supplies of food, water, and breathable air
  • Colonize other planets
  • Reduce all health issues to something as simple as applying a Band-Aide
  • Extend human life indefinitely
  • Uncover unlimited sources of renewable energy
  • Continually increase the intelligence of humankind
  • Find better ways to protect people from natural disasters
  • Harness the forces of nature for the betterment of humanity

For those of you reading this, please take a moment to add, subtract, or edit ideas on this list in the comment section below.

Final Thoughts

Rather than living in a world with people fighting people, the true battles that lie ahead will test us on every conceivable level. On the grandest of scales, we will find ourselves confronted with forces larger than our entire solar system, and on the tiniest of scales, nanotechnology and sub-atomic particles will confound us with challenges we never dreamed could exist. These battles will require far more than brilliant minds, personal tenacity, and military might.

People of tomorrow will need to be prepared for a higher calling. This higher calling will be to pre-empt crises before they occur, anticipate disasters before they happen, and solve some of mankind’s greatest problems, starting with the problem of our own ignorance.

Much like a person walking through a dark forest with a flashlight that illuminates but a short distance ahead, each step forward gives us a new perspective by adding light to what was previously dark. The people of tomorrow will simply need a better flashlight.

Until now, ours has been a dance with the ordinary. History shows us that we are immersed in cycles, systems, and patterns that repeat again and again. Tomorrow’s history books will show us that all patterns are made to be broken, all cycles waiting to be transformed.

Higher education will need to position itself on the bleeding edge of what comes next. We will always need systems for looking backwards to understand where we have come from, but a new breed of visionaries, bestowed with unusual tools for preempting disasters, are destined to become our most esteemed professionals.

Life in the future will not be easy, nor should it be.

Perhaps a simpler way of stating our Prime Directive would be like this: “Preparing humanity for worlds unknown, preparing our minds for thoughts unthinkable, and preparing our resolve for struggles unimaginable.”

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” - the book that changes everything

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25 Responses

  1. Humphrey van Polanen Petel

    But once we have achieved all that, what will we do?

  2. FuturistSpeaker

    Humphrey, the Prime Directive cannot be a static goal. Because of the ever changing nature of society and our ability to achieve and accomplish, we must continually raise the bar. And we will learn much in the process.

    Thomas Frey

  3. HB

    God, who created the universe, already gave us a Prime Directive. It’s called The Bible. He will have the last say, and ‘every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus,(the ONE who came and lived perfectly for us and paid the price to redeem us from our sins so in and through Him we may have eternal life in Heaven with Him) is Lord.’

  4. Kiko

    Very insightful Tom. I believe you are on to something big. As I work on my dissertation on wise innovation and wise systems, I introduce the concepts of “state of flourishing” (a la Seligman) and “flourishing adaptive systems”. A prime directive for humans could be to be in permanent search of that attractor state, flourishing. All topics you have covered so far, from education to exploration, seem to express that human struggle to reaching higher.
    Keep on it, you are an inspiring force. Thank you, all the best.
    Kiko

  5. Yes, and…including things that are beyond physical infrastructure, for example evolving our consciousness.

    A positive evolution includes continual evaluation of our thought structures, especially in relation to how we govern ourselves and contribute to humanity.
    Currently the reliance on old patterns of thinking and inflexible organizations is causing grief, greed and chaos in the world.

    It’s human nature to want to belong, although we often identify with specialized groups (based on geography, nations, age, politics, religion…) rather than the bigger picture of humanity. Those specialized groups are having a difficult time staying relevant as they aren’t evolving at the same rate as society, the economy, the environment… That said, people hold on to them as part of their identity, their belief system, long after they are of positive service to them.

    In the past it was useful to rely on specialized groups for support because our domains were governed mostly by geographic location. This is no longer true, we are a global society struggling for identity as our access to information and influences spread far and wide.

    This is an incomplete comment. This topic deserves a much longer and thoughtful conversation than I can offer at this time. It’s complicated and evolving our understanding of what it is to be human is at the root.

    It’s not business as usual in the future; we get to create it. Let’s make choices that will benefit us all and tell a beautiful story of how it will be.

  6. Humphrey van Polanen Petel

    Tom, achievement has no value other than as an enabler.

    Star Fleet’s “prime restrictive” of “do not interfere” is spot on and applies to us in the here and now as well.

    There are those who are content to dance with the ordinary and there are those who need to satisfy their curiosity. Both must be allowed to arrange their life accordingly and neither can be allowed to do so to the detriment of the other.

    Our “prime directive” should be to make that happen.

  7. FuturistSpeaker

    Humphrey,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    If Star Fleet’s “prime restrictive” were applied today it’d mean that the U.S. shouldn’t interfere with China, Russia, Egypt, or vice versa. Living on separate planets or solar systems adds distance, but that may not be a big factor in the future.

    Non-interference somehow presumes a healthier universe, but that also presumes isolationist countries are better than a cooperative, competitive, synergistic earth.

    In Star Fleet’s line of thinking there is also an assumption that one culture is far more advanced than another, and that the dominant life forms are humanoid.

    Can you imagine discovering a new life form on another planet and not wanting to know more about them? Curiosity will always win out over non-interference.

    Tom

  8. FuturistSpeaker

    Kiko,

    Your idea of “flourishing adaptive systems” is quite intriguing. I only have a rough inkling of what that might look like.

    Definitely worth pondering.

    Tom

  9. Meanwhile in a parallel universe, these concepts have been evolving into a framework:
    (- perhaps these “basics” can contribute to your insight – and our success)

    SPIRITUAL LEVEL
    Love others as you would want to be loved

    PERSONAL LEVEL
    Take individual responsibility for our mutual benefit

    INTERACTION LEVEL
    Continuously improve the way we collectively manage change

    GOVERNANCE LEVEL
    Participate in equitable representation and share in equitable remuneration

    The question is how to implement that… and the answer is to ask better questions.
    I’ve narrowed it down to a key four (ASK4)… that address the issues in this framework.

  10. Phillip Watts

    Just to live on Earth for another 1,000 years is a goal. The privious civilization that passed before seem to have ran out of Energy and Food. Before the Plague that reduced the world population by 50-60%. Energy/Food fulcrum will be persued by Youth/Elderly fulcrum casing the first fulcrum. Third will be medical/disease fulcrum.

    Interesingly Terrorism will be focused on Food or else thinking. Enhanced food could solve all of the competing issues of our time. With less time gathering resources, one could enjoy brain time pursuits.

  11. Sedo

    This is one of my favorite articles by dr Tom.

  12. Humphrey van Polanen Petel

    Tom,

    You are not responding to the guts of my post. The reference to Star Fleet was only an attention-getter, as it was for you.

    Indeed, non-interference presumes a healthier world, but that in itself makes it already worthwhile striving for. And non-interference also presumes a world of individuals who respect each other. A world where there are no countries, but only recognizably different communities. A world where there are steering committees and no governments. A world where there is cooperation in life and competition in games.

    No, being curious does not imply interfering. It is rather like this: And if ye mingle your affairs with theirs, then they are your brothers. (Which I first read in Heinlein’s Stranger in a strange land.)

    Yes, such a world can never be fully attained, because life is not error-free, but a good directive is one that points past achievable goals.

    Humphrey

  13. Great article, to look beyond our current limitations, to look forwards not backwards, but I agree with “flora” about the idea of a positive evolution of consciousness. If we are still in the same mindset, nothing with really change for the better. I think a complete revolution in education, in how we view ourselves – as creative, spiritual beings – will being to allow a shift in our approach to problems/solutions, as we begin to feel our connectedness to our planet and it’s inhabitants. We need to be able to believe in the possibility and potential for different ways of engaging with each other. Thank you for starting the discussion…

  14. seriously this is nice, very inspiring…

  15. FuturistSpeaker

    Humphrey,

    Non-interference would mean no trade, no exchange. While some think we honor a culture by letting them grow and mature on their own, we also dishonor them by ignoring their output, their achievements, their ideas, and their culture.

    Personally, I would want to learn from every culture in the universe. But I don’t see a way for that to happen without some level of interference. How do you draw some arbitrary line in the sand and say this constitutes interference, but this doesn’t?

    Tom

  16. FuturistSpeaker

    Phil,

    We need to do more than just live on earth for the next 1,000 years. Yes we will have food issues, energy issues, water, waste, and air issues. But we have the ability to do more than just survive, so how should we be directing those extra efforts.

    For this and previous comments on those who wish to maintain the earth as a pristine environment, once we do that, then what? Once we have perfectly dialed in humanity to an absolute minimal intrusion, living in perfect harmony with nature, what else should we be focusing our attention on?

    Rather than focusing on how bad we’ve been to the earth, how about we think about how good we can be for the rest of the universe?

    Call me a heretic, but I think we have a higher calling.

    Thomas Frey

  17. Humphrey van Polanen Petel

    Tom,

    We appear to have different definitions of ‘interfere’.

    The relevant entries on dictionary.reference.com are these:

    1. to come into opposition, as one thing with another, especially with the effect of hampering action or procedure (often followed by “with”): Constant distractions interfere with work.
    2. to take part in the affairs of others; meddle (often followed by “with” or “in”): to interfere in another’s life.
    4. to interpose or intervene for a particular purpose.

    The presupposition here is that the interfering party has ulterior motives that are potentially harmful.

    Where to draw the line will differ from case to case, but to learn from some other culture, whether somewhere else in the universe or already here on Earth, it will suffice to adhere to the medical principle of non-maleficence: do not risk causing more harm than good.

    Humphrey

  18. Mick Steele

    Hi Tom,

    The issues with the future are proportional, as ever, between chance and design.

    The intervention of man to influence outcome has always been fraught with the ‘domino’ effect that everything is interrelated and changing one thing leads to a multiplicity of effects elsewhere.

    As the population increases, localised intervention for the increase in support resource will provide short term solutions, but this propogates the issue which means the localised supply has to be extended.

    As each locality requires resource from another locality, then the attrition will start and lead to conflict.

    There will be no way to avoid conflict in future.

    The ability of mankind to communicate and co-operate cross culture and cross border has been universally disatsterous outside of academia.

    The prime directive for humanity can only be to somehow collaborate as a species to populate other planets that can either be made habitable or are habitable (and unpopulated!)

    The measurement of time, if taken on a geological time frame, I believe will win the battle for the ascendency. I think that time will run out for us as a species before we can take that ultimate step of working together, as we would sooner hide behind religion and politics than accept that we are all the same really, and to work together for the greater good is the only way ahead.

    The universe will continue on it’s grand scale regardless of little old Homo Sapiens, unless of course we become as great as we could be.
    The selfish nature of man, based on short term gratification and consumption has a overarching restriction to social evolution to the levels required to work ourselves out of this seemingly unavoidable end.

    Oh how I wish it was different, as I believe our potential is so much more than we will achieve.

    Mick

  19. lou

    starting now, we need to focus on new and better methods for space travel. It is not viable to consider interstellar travel with chemical-type rocketry. Anti Gravity engines using mercury and magnet technology looks promising ( and may have already been done.)
    -harnessing the power of the oceans’ waves and tides.
    -understanding the many cycles of the earth, weather , tides and seasons and working around them and with them, not in conflict with them.
    – the future is clearly in space
    – mining of asteroids for precious minerals and rare commodities
    a continuation of the SETI project, I would like to see if there are ways to supercharge those efforts.
    – Unlocking DNA. I believe this has the potential to change our lives for the better in unimaginable ways.
    – I DO NOT believe that ” the smart machines will take over some day “. Luddite thinking, it is dead end.
    -throwing out communism with the slavery and the statism that goes along with it. People are born to do things, accomplish things, and self actualize. Not to live under the thumb of tinhorns.
    just a few thoughts.
    Great article, Tom.

  20. FuturistSpeaker

    Great feedback Lou,

    I think you’re touching on some very important topics. We will never know what’s possible unless we push the limits.

    Thomas Frey

  21. Gene Roddenberry would have enjoyed this step along the way towards exploring the Universe! Bravo! Please don’t say all of Hollywood ruined the future!

  22. Ștefan Fulea

    About the “prime restrictive”, the Star Trek Universe Star Fleet’s Prime Directive has political reasons behind it. Having non-interference as a guiding principle gives others a strong signal of you not abusing some powers or position, and it does not necessarily encourage isolationism given the fact that the Federation of Planets has an open membership policy. That Prime Directive would therefore be the Prime Directive of the limited context of external relations – I know, that was not stated always very clearly in the movies.

    About this idea in general, I think that having a Prime Directive for all humanity, beside the guiding role will also bear a limiting role as a consequence. The limiting role might be good and bad in the same time, but considering the context and our experience in this context I doubt we are that capable of making the necessary trade-offs. …but those will be attempted anyway by the politicians and the policy-makers of tomorrow, as it is done on a more limited level today. The politicians of the united humanity will have to think about some kind of “external policy” whatever it might be, but we’re not there yet. Yes, I agree with you that we have a higher calling but we also have plenty of problems today, other than the mentioned constantly-recurring ones. We are not past some philosophical issues of our current space and time, yet.

  23. Ștefan Fulea

    Regarding some comments:

    “Non-interference would mean no trade, no exchange.” – in the case of pre-warp culture – yes, not even the knowledge that other warp-capable civilizations exist if it’s possible. In the warp-capable cases – only if that was mutually agreed upon.

    “While some think we honor a culture by letting them grow and mature on their own, we also dishonor them by ignoring their output, their achievements, their ideas, and their culture.” – all cultures are free to contribute with all they have and wish, when ready.

    “Personally, I would want to learn from every culture in the universe. But I don’t see a way for that to happen without some level of interference. How do you draw some arbitrary line in the sand and say this constitutes interference, but this doesn’t?” – I call interference anything what changes them in some way (regardless if it is good or bad, Humphrey van Polanen Petel).

  24. Mike Spalding

    Many of these ideas overlap with the goal of survival of our species. Colonizing other planets is an important part of this. And stopping the next extinction level asteroid is something we can work on now.

  25. Do extraterrestrials have their own Prime Directive? If so, it might resemble this:
    http://earthcrazy.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/the-prime-directive/

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